To be relevant, competitive and profitable, organizations must continually monitor consumer and industry trends and then periodically adjust or change in response to shifts. Companies that are nimble and can adapt or differentiate more easily enjoy significant advantages over those with bulky managerial infrastructures that hinder prompt strategic pivots, slow down decision-making and prevent optimal organizational operations. For alignment efforts to be successful, it is critical to have an effective strategy for improvement as well as a process for keeping the organization aligned with its strategic goals. Most of all, the organization must develop strong and effective alignment leadership.

An alignment leader® is a role rather than an appointed position. The alignment leader’s purpose is to make sure the organization is aligned to effectively drive strategy and marketplace differentiation. Ideally, alignment leaders are sprinkled throughout the organization, leading various functions, teams and organizations. They bring people together, communicate the intent and specifics of how the organization needs to align, and put mechanisms in place to get things done.

What Is an Alignment Leader?

There are four essential traits of an effective alignment leader, also described as a change leader:

  • Skilled in decision-making, particularly when it comes to making trade-offs and hard choices.
  • Skilled in systemics-thinking to ensure alignment across the, including in structure, metrics, talent and culture.
  • Insightful and able to see the path to drive change effectively.
  • Nurturing and able to train others to be capable alignment leaders.

Alignment leaders are tasked with:

  • Clearly establishing goals and defining a strategy to meet them.
  • Wisely and efficiently allocating available resources.
  • Making necessary tradeoffs and tough choices.
  • Identifying future change leaders and training them.

Having processes in place to nurture change leader capabilities will also protect your organization from attrition as others with these capabilities retire, are promoted or leave for opportunities elsewhere.

Systemic Alignment Leadership

Alignment is a group effort, and the more systemic change leadership is — from C-suite executives to rank-and-file influencers — the easier it will be to drive change and maintain alignment throughout your organization.

This process does not happen by accident; it occurs when an organization is intentionally designed to work that way. Aligning an organization is only the first step. Achieving the full potential of that alignment requires a collective effort, not just one senior executive who oversees it.

The question is, how does a leader develop other leaders to ensure that alignment and, thus, organizational effectiveness, is achieved from top to bottom? Here are four steps:

1. Set expectations. Leaders should clearly explain that part of the leadership role is ensuring that the systems in the company are aligned to deliver performance. Bringing others on board with organizational alignment will help expedite the achievement of strategic goals.

2. Walk the talk. If you want more leaders trained to be alignment-minded, establish specific programs for teaching the tools and methods that are used to achieve organizational alignment.

3. Involve. Bring potential leaders forward, and make them part of the process by enabling them to participate and contribute in deciding what the design is. That kind of hands-on training shows others how to focus their resources to move the performance needle.

4. Mentor. Leadership doesn’t emerge overnight. It is an ongoing learning curve and process. Great alignment leaders help their teams and peers ask the right questions and address key misalignments. When done well, the long-term impact of mentoring can offer career-changing benefits to leaders-in-training as well as to their organizations.

The faster change happens, the more an organization needs effective alignment leaders to help organizations navigate change, ensure differentiation and achieve strategic goals.